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Hugelkultur and keyhole in one

 
Jason Vath
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After being inspired from all the hugel info. and Sepp's videos I knew I had to make some of my own! Allowing many of natures processes to do their job for you, simply brilliant!
I'll never look at conventional gardening the same again as it seems so obsolete and almost backwards now.

What you're seeing here is an experiment of sorts. A 'figure-8' (two circle garden beds side by side) separated by a central flagstone walkway.
My initial idea was to have the one side be the traditional 'keyhole' design and the other be a typical flat bed with wood chips on top as a covering ('Back to Eden' method).
But, after learning about the amazing hugel beds I dug in and added the rotten logs beneath.

All of the rocks used for the borders were found right under the very beds themselves, which was a pleasant surprise.
Nearly all the soil was created from scratch the year before by piling up scythed hay, grass and some dirt.

The kids had fun helping by crushing & spreading rock dust all around the beds.



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Jason Vath
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Here the beds are shown loaded with the grass to be composted, and in the final pic, the somewhat completed compost.
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Jason Vath
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And here's an update.
This year I decided to speed up the compost process by planting mainly cover crops which I intend to till some back in as well as harvest and save some seed (Oats, Peas, Potatoes, Buckwheat, Clover among other volunteers like, sheep & wood sorrel, lambs quarters etc.)

This is the mounded up Hugelkultur side of the Fig-8 garden.
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Jason Vath
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Potatoes doing great behind the compost. Cover crops flourishing.
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Danielle Eernisse
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Wow! I'm gearing up to do a hugel keyhole bed myself, and I can't thank you enough for the encouraging pictures! I'm planning on doing the ultimate permie experiment: a hugel keyhole with sheet mulching and cover crops to top it off. Keep the pics of any future yields coming please
 
J.T. Croteau
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Nice work Jason.
 
Noah Figg
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Hi Jason,

I was wondering about this, it sort of looks like you can't get to the center of the beds. Is that the case? My understanding of a keyhole bed is that there is a path to a small center spot where you can reach all of the bed or at least all of the center area, if the outside is accessible on its own. Can you get to the center area?

Looks good anyhow, I just was wondering about that. Keep up the experimentation!
 
Jason Vath
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Noah Figg wrote:Hi Jason,

I was wondering about this, it sort of looks like you can't get to the center of the beds. Is that the case? My understanding of a keyhole bed is that there is a path to a small center spot where you can reach all of the bed or at least all of the center area, if the outside is accessible on its own. Can you get to the center area?

Looks good anyhow, I just was wondering about that. Keep up the experimentation!


Yea I know, in the bed with all the cover crops, you can't really get to the center without trampling on vegetation.
This paticular bed is not the 'keyhole garden' side. It's the 'hugelkultur semi-circle' bed. I'm primarily building more soil at this time while experiencing hugelkultur for the fist time.

The side with the compost bin in the center is my 'keyhole' garden bed. For what ever reason, the cover crops(oats, peas) did not produce there.
I ended up planting potatoes there primarily.
Now from the information I received on 'keyhole gardens' , there is access to a central compost bin which constantly feeds the surrounding circular bed.
I seen an example on youtube (African Keyhole Garden, I think?) and simulated mine after what I saw.

I know my previous pics may be a little confusing as to what is going on. The filenames of some of the images aren't necessarily accurate due to a change of plans, which adds further confusion.

I attached a simple diagram showing the layout of my 'figure 8' garden bed combo to clarify things.


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Noah Figg
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Awesome, I like it. I am trying out the compost in the center thing too, in a smaller circular bed. Let us see the results if you get a chance later on. I will try to post pics of mine in my project thread.
 
Roger Mims
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Jason,

How did you pull up those rocks?

 
Jason Vath
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Update: The front lobes of the Keyhole Garden are starting to fill in.

Here you see Jericho Lettuce off to a great start, it's heat tolerant.
Added in some Purple Cabbage & Cayenne Pepper plants.
Field Peas around the circumference of the compost bin.


The potatoes and Collards are finally starting to fill in around the sides of the compost bin as well as wilds amongst them like,
Lambs quarters, Sheep Sorrel, Wood Sorrel & Narrow Leaf Plantain.

My oats are looking rather dry, I'll need to research into harvesting them.
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Jason Vath
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Roger Mims wrote:Jason,

How did you pull up those rocks?




Painstakingly by hand, and some help with a mattock & spud bar.
 
Jason Vath
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Small update: Keyhole lobes are filling in a bit more.

I decided to make another compost pile in the midst of the hugel bed since I need more soil. The peas now seem to be dying down and I'll patiently wait for the oats to ripen, hopefully.

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Matu Collins
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I've seen these compost-in-a-keyhole beds before and I always wonder how it doesn't attract critters to come and tunnel. I guess people don't use household compost?
 
Jason Vath
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Matu Collins wrote:I've seen these compost-in-a-keyhole beds before and I always wonder how it doesn't attract critters to come and tunnel. I guess people don't use household compost?


I don't know as this is a new experience for me. All seems to be alright so far.
My compost as of now is almost entirely scythed grass/weeds and hay, some dirt/finished compost layered in as well.

Every once in a while I throw in an apple core or other food waste, not really enough to make a difference volume wise, so I don't expect there to be a critter problem.
 
Jason Vath
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Here's yesterday's harvest of organic Red Potatoes.
These came from the back section of the 'keyhole' where the potatoes started growing first.
The plants were dying down so I pulled up those 4 or 5 plants and harvested 37 large potatoes as shown in the picture and
probably about 20 smaller ones (not shown) ranging in size from a quarter to an egg.

This is the best harvest I've personally ever experienced with potatoes.

The soil life is absolutely amazing! Upon digging in with my hands, I immediately noticed hundreds of worms and little bugs of all kinds scurrying about.
I still have a lot of uncomposted hay left but, much newly created soil as well!
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Dale Hodgins
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Jason Vath
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Thanks for asking, I was wondering the same thing, so I just checked.....
Those 5 or so plants were in an area about 12 square feet I'd estimate (hard to say as they were in a round bed)

The 37 potatoes shown in the picture above weighed in at 15lbs.

Like I said before, there were even more smaller ones (probably 20 or so) which I immediately cooked. Did not really take the time to even count them nor weigh those ones.

To estimate, I'd say maybe a grand total weight of about 20lbs including the smaller ones not shown?
 
Dale Hodgins
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Dar Durand
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Matu Collins wrote:I've seen these compost-in-a-keyhole beds before and I always wonder how it doesn't attract critters to come and tunnel. I guess people don't use household compost?


Critters are attracted to smell so as long as you cover kitchen scrapes with a 'brown' material they usually don't go digging.

Great thread and congrats on the potato production! I'm going to do hybrid hugel-keyholes when I get to that point in my garden building process.
 
Marianne Cicala
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Jason - this is great!!! I'm working on a barren piece of land and this one is now definitely on the list!
thanks for posting and please keep e coming!
M
 
Jason Vath
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Update:

Things seem to be shifting now. The sections where the potatoes were doing well are primarily barren while the other areas have filled in rather nicely.
With the exception of the back area. I planted 'sugar pie pumpkins' and 'crimson sweet water melons' where the potatoes once were.
It may be too late, I don't know. We'll see what happens.



In the meantime I've added an enormous amount of compost all throughout the beds. Next year the beds should contain significantly more rich soil!


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Lobes are filling in
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Bolting Jericho Lettuce
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Cayenne Pepper Plant
 
Jason Vath
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And the Sugar Pie Pumpkins:

Composting all throughout. Constantly building the soil.
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Jason Vath
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Most likely too late to expect pumpkins or watermelons unless I get really clever, but I had to try anyways.
If they fail to mature, then they simply go back into making more soil.
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Jason Vath
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update:

Here's the latest growth. I'm letting it do pretty much what ever it wants while I stand back and observe the natural life cycle of the polyculture.
It's fascinating to see a plant go through it's entire life cycle undisturbed as possible.

The Oakleaf lettuce has been providing a Huge amount of seed and will continue for quite a while. so far I've harvested about half a cups worth. I estimate I'll get at least that much more soon.

The Cayenne Peppers are ripening fairly well. Have been enjoying them and will allow some to stay on the bush for seed collection.

The Pumpkins & Watermelons are taking over like a jungle! The vines grow very quickly and are constantly putting out new buds and leaves.
I decided to intervene and daily prune the new growth in order to force the existing fruit to 'hopefully' mature.
They are hugging the compost bin for warmth I'm assuming.



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Jason Vath
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Some more fruits:

-Sugar-pie Pumpkin
-small head of Broccoli
-Large Cayenne Peppers!



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Alex Cortez
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Amazing. Please keep posting pictures.

I was planning to do this and was looking to see if anyone has done that before. I start my hugelkultur beds with big fat branches which disintegrate in a couple of years. It helps with soil build up.

When I have time I am making a small keyhole garden in the front of the house.
 
Jason Vath
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Update: 2013-11-10

It's too cold now, everything is dead and composted back in. I heavily mulched the beds with alternating layers of grass and hay.
As you can see from the pics, I decided now was a good time to add more rotten logs/branches to the hugel arc, it's now wider & taller!
The soil looks amazing, worms & bugs all over the place alive & very active! Next year should be amazing.


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mike mclellan
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Well done, Jason! Thanks for your selfless sharing. The photos helped me and I'm sure will help many in visualizing and/or laying out their own hugel projects.
 
A.J. Gentry
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Jason,

Thank you so much for posting the picture series. I have been wondering what it could look like to combine hugel and a keyhole garden. The diagram is super helpful too.

I was wondering what program did you use to type the red letters and arrows identifying the plants over the photos?

A.J.
 
Jason Vath
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A.J. Gentry,

The programs I use are the default Windows 'Paint' and free downloadable 'GIMP'.
Paint is very quick and easy for adding simple text and simple shapes.
Gimp is used for more advanced editing. It is almost as good as expensive high-end editing programs like Photoshop, only Gimp is FREE!

 
A.J. Gentry
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Jason,

I guess I didn't realize Paint had arrows or text. When I try to do something like that I use the mouse and it makes very wobbly lines. Yours looked nice and neat. And I'd never heard of GIMP.

Thanks!

A.J.
 
michael murray
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Hi Jason, Awesome job on the huglebed/keyhole. I'm building my first huglebed with a keyhole type herb spiral off to one end. I still need to get some compost and/or topsoil for all of it. If I can figure out how to upload them I'll include some pics.
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michael murray
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well there's one. I'll try again.
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Jason Vath
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Interesting design, I like that it has distance to it. I'd like to do something spanning a longer distance as well sometime.
Once I realized how much hard work & time it takes(for one person by hand) I quickly scrapped my original plan of creating a maze like walk-through. Lol

One big challenge I notice in hugel construction by hand is finding enough soil to properly cover the wood.
I figure that by packing the wood as tightly together as possible, you can make much better use of the limited soil,
otherwise a lot of soil will simply fall in between the cracks and not effectively cover.

Concerning your design,
I personally would've used more wood if possible, for better water retention and longevity, especially in the spiral section.
My understanding is that you want to make these hugel beds absurdly steep to minimize soil compaction. They will naturally collapse quite a bit over time and not be as steep later on.
Also looks like you have a lot of evergreen wood in there? It may take a long time for that to effectively break down. Just guessing.

Anyways, hope it works out well for you.

 
michael murray
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Jason, You're right on a couple of things. The spiral section probably could have used some more wood, but I'm considering it to be sort of a cross between a huglebed and a traditional herb spiral. Also I think I added a few more limbs than the pic shows. As for the evergreen wood, after I started putting this all together I found a dead pine tree out in the front yard so cut it down and put it on top of what I had. Some of it has already started to rot but the heart wood will take a long time to break down. As for the soil, I'm afraid I'll have to go buy some compost to cover it up with. I could get all the horse or cow manure I want but I'm afraid there'll be too many weed seeds in it as it not thoroughly composted. Any thoughts?

happy gardening.
 
Jason Vath
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Michael,

Here's an idea to consider if you don't mind having some depressions near the beds.
From the research I've been doing, it's common practice to get most, if not all the soil
from under & around the hugelbeds.

If you don't like the idea of having ditches around your beds, and you're really ambitious
you could fade out the ditches gradually till they are less noticeable.

See the marked up pic for clarification.

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Johnny Niamert
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Did your holy basil do much?
 
michael murray
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Jason, I like the idea of getting soil from a ditch around the bed and then tapering off the depth to make it less noticeable. I'm on rented property so I am hesitant to change too much about the yard even though these changes are without question, for the better. I might just do that and see how much dirt I can get that way.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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